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<nettime> Of Men and Monuments
Paul D. Miller on Wed, 1 Oct 2003 06:36:29 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Of Men and Monuments


well.. this is a piece done for 21C - we're just in the final phases 
of setting it up as a quarterly, and julian Laverdiere is one of the 
people who designed the cover for the new issue. He was, along with 
Paul Myoda, and  also one of the principal folks involved with 
designing up the "Towers of Light/Tribute in Light" Memorial for the 
World Trade Center victims. Like Maya Lin's 1982 Vietnam Veterans 
Memorial - the "Towers..." sought to commemorate a dilemma of 
American culture - a dilemma usually implies a situation that 
requires a choice between options that are or seem equally 
unfavorable or mutually exclusive. One monument was about permanence 
and the American aspiration to monumentalism. The other, made of 
light, was about transparency and impermanence. Light and text - 
permanence and impermanence - these are issues that info culture 
faces - in the tradition of Virilio, this is certainly no Albert 
Speers with lights intimating a 1000 Year Reich, but then again, 
hey... under the Bush Admin. maybe it could be.... after all, Leni 
Riefenstahl was a pretty good film maker too... this is art that asks 
- imperial time aspires to be universal, but how are we to think 
about the forms that represent the idea of empire? Anyway... read 
on....


here's the essay.
you can check the rest at www.21cmagazine.com

pax,
Paul




Of Men and Monuments, Vessels and Vectors...
Julian Laverdiere 's  Art of Uncertainty: "Goliath Concussed" at the 
Lehmann Maupin Gallery NYC


by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid


  "in architecture form is a noun, in industry form is a verb"
  R. Buckminster Fuller


In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows.
"I am great Ozymandias," saith the stone,
"The King of kings: this mighty city shows
The wonders of my hand." The city's gone!
Naught but the leg remaining to disclose
The sight of that forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Horace Smith, "Ozymandias" 1817


Horace Smith composed this sonnet on 27 December 1817, during an 
evening sonnet-writing session with P.B. Shelley, but the echo, the 
sense of quotation of content and context is what I want to evoke 
with this piece. Think again: Rhetorical bodies, matter and memory, 
teleplex tautologies, suture and synedoche... codes and modes... like 
I always enjoy saying: it all just flows. It's been a long time since 
1869 when the U.S., as an aspiring regional super-power, laid the 
first trans-continental telegraph and railroad lines throughout the 
newly reconsolidated polity that the Civil War had given birth to. It 
was an ambitious project, but like all American endeavors of size it 
had a small beginning. During the month of May 1869, in the middle of 
Utah, and at a place very few of us would ever check out, a silver 
spike hammered into the a railroad track that was almost finished 
completed a continent wide circuit in the newly linked 
transcontinental rails. The spike set off a electronic trigger pulse 
that was supposed to celebrate the occasion: a current moved through 
the newly connected and then infantile networks linking the East and 
West, and spread throughout the rail and telegraph lines like some 
newly remade disembodied Paul Revere howling through the wires. In 
New York and in San Francisco two cannons - one facing the Atlantic 
and the other, the Pacific Ocean - fired a shot triggered by the 
phantasmal pulse sent from the joining of the railroads in the middle 
of America, making the newly ambitious U.S.'s sense of Manifest 
Destiny telephonically clear to the rest of the world - from the 
heart of the country a silver spike closed the circuit on reality as 
our ancestors knew it. The rest, as it's always said, is another 
story. Ah, the logic of history. Like the poem that I begin this 
essay with, its something that at first glance evokes a series of 
historical allusions, and then one realizes the legerdemain - it's 
not Percy Shelley's, but an echo, a remix, a quote within a quote. 
One could argue that that's the sense of uncertainty of origin that 
Laverdiere strives to convey with his work.

The above mentioned event is true but hovers someplace in my 
imagination at a point mid-way between Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, with 
dashes of Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" thrown in for good 
measure. That's what Julian Laverdiere's work is like: it puts a spin 
on a commonplace situation and for better or worse creates a place 
where fiction and reality, like everything else these days, seem to 
be completely meshed with one another. In "Forbidden Aspirations for 
Ascendancy," Laverdiere's first solo show at Gallery Andrew Kreps 
back in 2000, one entered a room where two capsules sat on funerary 
trestles, and another work - a hyper-meticulously rendered model of a 
rusted safe - sat spinning in an almost holographic video projection 
several feet off the floor. In another section of the show a couch 
made of material normally used for NASA's space programs invites a 
hypgnagogic reverie of the rusted safe spinning on the wall. It was 
all about inducing a kind of hypnotic, mesmeric, fictional, mode of 
contemplating the installation. The soundtrack made by Wolfgang Voigt 
(a techno-minimalist composer who works under the name "GAS" for a 
german avant-garde label named Mille Plateuax - that's based on the 
philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari) was set in a minimalist drone 
of techno -pulse like beats, a kind of repetition that reminded me of 
the timelessness that you feel in a nightclub - that sense of the 
"prolonged present" completes the installations sense of suspended 
time. The two major pieces of the show, "First Attempted Trans 
Atlantic Telegraph Cable Crossing" and "First Attempted Manned Space 
Flight" pointed to two major failures at the edge of two eras of the 
information age. Both pieces were rendered as kind of optical 
sarcophagi, each one a puzzle piece in a mental map made of loosely 
tied fictions and near-real hypothetical situations. What better way 
to look at today's information saturated world where no one is 
exactly sure of events and the news about them?

The 1854 cable venture of Cyrus WW. Field , a would be media mogul in 
the mold of a prototypical Bill Gates of the early industrial age, 
and the mid-WWII German rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, have 
little in common except their sense of being rendered into historic 
vector motifs - they inspired other people on to carry their ideas to 
much greater heights than either of them attained, and it's that 
sense of engagement human frailty in the face of technology's 
omnivourous gaze that Laverdiere evokes with an uncanny sense of 
hyper-realism. The capsules contain exquisitely rendered models of 
the failed projects, rendered exactly to scale, and the optical 
quality of the plastic encasing them gives the objects an almost 
holographic quality - Laverdiere has worked on film shoots and video 
shoots for several years, and the experience gained in rendering 
reality into a video shoot has paid off handsomely. Indeed with the 
exquisite detailed attention paid to every aspect of the show - the 
capsules, the digitally rendered hyper-realistic photos of the 
ficitional events that he's encapsulated - Laverdiere can say, as so 
many of us feel in these heady days of hyper-modernity, like the main 
character of H.G. Well's 1894 classic "The Triumph of The 
Taxidermist" who creates new hyrbid creatures from the bones and 
skins of extinct animals for kicks so he can convince people he's 
found new species: "But all this is merely imitating Nature." In the 
story the Taxidermist then points to his models in a shop filled with 
artificial creatures that he created for media spectacle - "I have 
done more than that in my time. I have - beaten her...."
   I have to admit: the precedents for this kind of work in the 
conventional artworld - Racheal Whiteread's fascination with making 
everyday life into a funereal reality, or a larger scale artist 
Micheal Heizer's project "City" - a huge simulated metropolis made of 
monumental mastabas and other regalia that we normally associate with 
Necropoli and the other effects of the wealthy or elite aspects of 
cultures world wide, Chris Burden's minature model cities, Gregory 
Greene's exact replica's of weapons and satellite communications 
systems, or even more cogently relevant, Constant's fascination with 
his "New Babylon" worldwide city of architecture and dispersion - 
have with Laverdiere's show been rendered into their scientific 
counterparts. This is the impulse of contemporary society's deep 
fascination with archival reality - what I like to call the "museum 
impulse"- and it makes its way into the installation via the route of 
the "rusted safe" encapsulated and then made into a video image 
projected spinning aimlessly on the wall. But before the musuem, 
before the collections of the contemporary artworld, there was the 
tradition of the wunderkammer or "wonder cabinet" that focused on a 
mode of display that was deliberately eccentric, and expressive of 
the personality and history of its creator. The first wunderkammer 
is believed to have appeared in Vienna around 1550 and the tradition 
grew and evolved for about one hundred years until its function was 
taken over by conventional museums. Where Laverdiere makes reality a 
transparent parenthetical statement about desire and expansion, other 
artists - for example, Rachel Whiteread's sense of space encapsulated 
like a concrete shell, or Mariko Mori's "Time Capsule" - a 
sarcophagous inverted and made transparent - contain a strange sense 
of trying to outrun death and impermanence. The museum impulse is the 
congruent - it ties everything down to its last impression, and acts 
as it assigns. Let's face it: it's a fixed place in the history of 
objects.
  Laverdiere points us in another direction. Just as his casket-like 
investigations of near historic events hover on the edge of reality 
point out, in his work, everything is up for grabs, everything is 
remixable. This is something people have started noticing on-line as 
well - omnipresence doesn't imply omniscience - in fact it usually 
creates a muddled sense of what's going on in the "real" world. This 
is the central metaphor "Forbidden Aspirations For Ascendancy" points 
to - Icarus and Daedulus - think of faded outlines and shimmering 
optical indeterminancy, and you'll get the picture, but the idea is 
there: the memory of an event and it's transposition into a living 
museum time shard is what creates the artistic tension in the 
installation. Again, a poem:

           Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled hp and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
.And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my works. Ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Shelley 1818

.
  	I'll end with a metaphor about permanence and impermanence: 
when he was asked to come up with an idea for the New York Time's 
recent efforts to freeze time in a media sphere of, of course, a time 
capsule, media artist Jaron Lanier came up with a novel idea: he felt 
that genetically encoding the information into cock-roaches would 
ensure the information's retrival 1000 years from now. The Times felt 
that they needed the obvious statement: a capsule. One is forced to 
wonder which will be around longer.... We always want the obvious 
ways to encode and preserve time, when it may not be the best route 
to take. Like the soma-tropic statue come to life in Fritz Lang's 
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," we're left with a sense of extreme 
indetemincany in the cultural landscape: a nine foot model of a 
ship-wreck that can still be found at the bottom of some of the 
harshest areas of the Northern Atlantic, a rusted safe put onto a 
solaris-like optical pedestal, and a hauntingly rendered model of a 
shattered space craft that could have existed, and that was created 
from the V-2 rocket notes of a Nazi aerospace scientist who was 
brought over to the U.S. to aid in our space program.... sometimes I 
think of this century's sense of trying to capture time - think, for 
example, of Duchamp's famous "Nude Descending a staircase" and it's 
critique of Edweaerd Muybridge's stop motion rendering of a woman 
walking nude down a staircase... when we examine every last item 
holding our perceptions together we're left, like the techno 
soundtrack that backs the installation silently marooned in the 
repetition of the present, left wondering if one action or another 
would have produced some radically different situations and moments. 
Laverdiere in his own way, cleverly critiques this. Who knows... 
perhaps a rendition of the shells that announced the first 
transcontitnental land networks is in the works. All I can say, is 
given Laverdiere's historical breadth and craftsmanship, I wouldn't 
be surprised. This was an excellent first show. He tells us, like the 
New York Time's project  (I'm not attacking the project, by the way, 
I  think it's a good idea) that will probably decay with time, some 
things are best forgotten. The more recent "Goliath Concussed" shows 
the evolution of an artist concerned with todays images of empires, 
and like Horace Smith's Ozymandias remix, we're asked again to think 
about "What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place."


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